Speaking, or, at the very least, effectively presenting an idea, whether to two or two thousand, is an essential business skill. I would argue that marketers should have one or two core presentations that they make routinely as a way to share their companies’ unique point of view or story. Small business owners should think of presenting information in online and offline seminar formats as an important lead generation and conversion tactic.
Many people struggle with speaking in front of an audience and the only real cure for this is to get up and do it, realize no one will suffer permanently from it, and then get up and do it again. There are, however, three bits of advice that I would give to anyone that desires to become a more effective speaker. For me, effective only means getting your point across in a way that inspires the listener to do what you want them to do.
Share the love – one of the most important elements an effective speaker brings to an audience is passion. This can be passion for helping people get something valuable from hearing the lesson or advice presented or passion for the subject itself. You can’t fake passion, but when you have it, your message often comes through more clearly regardless of the polish of your speaking presence.
If you’re naturally passionate about your subject or the purpose of your information, then just don’t hold back, let people be attracted to that passion. If, however, your position requires you to present information that may be useful, but doesn’t exactly capture your imagination, then your job is to inject something you are passionate about. Let’s say you are talking about network security, but what you really love is World of Warcraft, music, or baseball. I believe you will be a much more compelling speaker when you find a way to weave topics you are passionate about into your presentations.
Become a TEDhead – If you’re not familiar with TED, then I am thrilled to be the one to introduce it to you. TED is a small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. It has grown to be a worldwide phenomenon and one of the best places for you to learn how to be a better speaker.
TED speakers are chosen because they are fascinating and have passion for a big idea. The format challenges them to present that idea within 18 minutes and most use very little in the way of slides or media. Every TED Talk is recorded and housed on the site. Make this your classroom and you will have access to a tremendous collection of speakers that will inspire and teach you how to be better speaker. Watch everything they do. (Start with Dan Pink on the Science of Motivation)
Shoot Your Free Throws – Legend has it that Larry Bird, the great NBA star, shot 100 free throws every day, even after he became a superstar. He also led the league in successful free throw shooting year after year. In order to be a better speaker you’ve got to practice. You may choose to spend a lot of time in front of mirror going over your presentation, but I suggest you get in some pickup games pretty quickly too.
Hunt down a Toastmaster’s Chapter in your area and start forcing yourself to present and receive critical review from a peer group. Seek out opportunities to present your ideas wherever you can. Speaking to the knitting club monthly lunch may not get you in front of the audience you ultimately desire, but it will get you live feedback and help you get better. Another thing about practicing in front of an audience is that it almost always leads to other speaking opportunities. Don’t let weeks slip by without rehearsing and presenting live, keep refining your ideas and approach by listening to your audience.